|John's bold profession of faith becomes an
example and warning for all of us to put faith in Christ before any human
calculation or concern
At the General Audience on
Wednesday, 5 July, in St. Peter's Square, continuing his Catecheses on the
Church's apostolic ministry, the Holy Father commented on John, "son of
Zebedee'' and "disciple whom Jesus loved'', who teaches "an important
lesson for our lives: the Lord wishes to make each one of us a disciple
who lives in personal friendship with him". The following is a translation
of the Popes Catechesis, given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Let us dedicate our meeting today to remembering another important
member of the Apostolic College: John, son of Zebedee and brother of
James. His typically Jewish name means: "the Lord has worked grace". He
was mending his nets on the shore of Lake Tiberias when Jesus called him
and his brother (cf. Mt 4:21; Mk 1:19).
John was always among the small group that Jesus took with him on
specific occasions. He was with Peter and James when Jesus entered Peter's
house in Capernaum to cure his mother-in law (cf. Mk 1:29); with the other
two, he followed the Teacher into the house of Jairus, a ruler of the
synagogue whose daughter he was to bring back to life (cf. Mk 5:37); he
followed him when he climbed the mountain for his Transfiguration (cf. Mk
He was beside the Lord on the Mount of Olives when, before the
impressive sight of the Temple of Jerusalem, he spoke of the end of the
city and of the world (cf. Mk 13:3); and, lastly, he was close to him in
the Garden of Gethsemane when he withdrew to pray to the Father before the
Passion (cf. Mk 11:33).
Shortly before the Passover, when Jesus chose two disciples to send
them to prepare the room for the Supper, it was to him and to Peter that
he entrusted this task (cf. Lk 22:8).
To serve, not to be served
His prominent position in the group of the Twelve makes it somewhat
easier to understand the initiative taken one day by his mother: she
approached Jesus to ask him if her two sons — John and James could sit
next to him in the Kingdom, one on his right and one on his left (cf. Mt
As we know, Jesus answered by asking a question in turn: he asked
whether they were prepared to drink the cup that he was about to drink
(cf. Mt 20:22). The intention behind those words was to open the two
disciples' eyes, to introduce them to knowledge of the mystery of his
person and to suggest their future calling to be his witnesses, even to
the supreme trial of blood.
A little later, in fact, Jesus explained that he had not come to be
served; but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (cf. Mt
In the days after the Resurrection, we find "the sons of Zebedee" busy
with Peter and some of the other disciples on a night when they caught
nothing, but that was followed, after the intervention of the Risen One,
by the miraculous catch: it was to be "the disciple Jesus loved" who first
recognized "the Lord" and pointed him out to Peter (cf. Jn 21:1-13).
In the Church of Jerusalem, John occupied an important position in
supervising the first group of Christians. Indeed, Paul lists him among
those whom he calls the "pillars" of that community (cf. Gal 2:9). In
fact, Luke in the Acts presents him together with Peter while they are
going to pray in the temple (cf. Acts 3:1-4, 11) or appear before the
Sanhedrin to witness to their faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:13, 19).
Together with Peter, he is sent to the Church of Jerusalem to
strengthen the people in Samaria who had accepted the Gospel, praying for
them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8:14-15). In
particular, we should remember what he affirmed with Peter to the
Sanhedrin members who were accusing them: "We cannot but speak of what we
have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
It is precisely this frankness in confessing his faith that lives on as
an example and a warning for all of us always to be ready to declare
firmly our steadfast attachment to Christ, putting faith before any human
calculation or concern.
According to tradition, John is the "disciple whom Jesus loved", who in
the Fourth Gospel laid his head against the Teacher's breast at the Last
Supper (cf. in 13:23), stood at the foot of the Cross together with the
Mother of Jesus (cf. Jn 19:25) and lastly, witnessed both the empty tomb
and the presence of the Risen One himself (cf. Jn 20:2; 21:7).
We know that this identification is disputed by scholars today, some of
whom view him merely as the prototype of a disciple of Jesus. Leaving the
exegetes to settle the matter, let us be content here with learning an
important lesson for our lives: the Lord wishes to make each one of us a
disciple who lives in personal friendship with him.
Friendship with the Lord
To achieve this, it is not enough to follow him and to listen to him
outwardly: it is also necessary to live with him and like him. This is
only possible in the context of a relationship of deep familiarity, imbued
with the warmth of total trust. This is what happens between friends; for
this reason Jesus said one day: "Greater love has no man than this, that a
man lay down his life for his friends.... No longer do I call you
servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I
have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have
made known to you" (Jn 15:13, 15).
In the apocryphal Acts of John, the Apostle is not presented as
the founder of Churches nor as the guide of already established
communities, but as a perpetual wayfarer, a communicator of the faith in
the encounter with "souls capable of hoping and being saved" (18:10;
All is motivated by the paradoxical intention to make visible the
invisible. And indeed, the Oriental Church calls him quite simply "the
Theologian", that is, the one who can speak in accessible terms of the
divine, revealing an arcane access to God through attachment to Jesus.
Devotion to the Apostle John spread from the city of Ephesus where,
according to an ancient tradition, he worked for many years and died in
the end at an extraordinarily advanced age, during the reign of the
In Ephesus in the sixth century, the Emperor Justinian had a great
basilica built in his honour, whose impressive ruins are still standing
today. Precisely in the East, he enjoyed and still enjoys great
In Byzantine iconography he is often shown as very elderly
— according to tradition, he died under the
Emperor Trajan — in the process of intense contemplation, in the attitude,
as it were, of those asking for silence.
Indeed, without sufficient recollection it
is impossible to approach the supreme mystery of God and of his
revelation. This explains why, years ago, Athenagoras, Ecumenical
Patriarch of Constantinople, the man whom Pope Paul VI embraced at a
memorable encounter, said: "John is the origin of our loftiest
spirituality. Like him, 'the silent ones' experience that mysterious
exchange of hearts, pray for John's presence, and their hearts are set on
fire" (O. Clément, Dialoghi con Atenagora, Turin 1972, p. 159).
May the Lord help us to study at John's
school and learn the great lesson of love, so as to feel we are loved by
Christ "to the end" (Jn 13:1), and spend our lives for him.